“To you I give my future
As long as it may last
To you I give my
To you I give my past”
from ‘No Sacrifice’ by Jason Upton.
There was a moment when he woke up in the night, already breathless from coughing in his sleep, and felt his heart racing a mile a minute, heard the heart monitor bleeping madly in panicked sympathy and he felt completely and utterly alone. Then a hand clasped his in silent support and he forced open his watery eyes, pulled in a whooping breath, and saw Gibbs leaning forward, concern in his eyes, and he relaxed and somehow he could breathe again.
It still took a minute or two before he could turn onto his back and relax but Gibbs kept his hand held firmly in his own the whole time and it was only when Tony signaled with a small clench of his fingers that he was okay now, that Gibbs relinquished his grip. Then he leaned back in the chair and reached over to grab the glass of water off the bedside table, picked it up and leaned forward again, angling the straw between Tony’s lips. He waited till Tony turned his head away to signal he’d had enough then he placed the glass back on the table and bent forward again.
“You okay?” he asked.
Tony nodded and closed his eyes again. He was always so tired, exhausted beyond tired in fact and the coughing really took it out of him. He heard a nurse bustle into the room and submitted to her checks then let himself drift, wishing Gibbs would reach out and hold his hand again…
It was broad daylight when he opened his eyes again and he was disappointed to find Gibbs no longer in the chair at his bedside.
“He was down in the cafeteria,” the nurse who entered his room told him as she saw him looking at the chair. “You two must be really good friends,” she added as she adjusted the head of Tony’s bed then helped him turn onto his back and readjusted the oxygen cannula that had slipped to the side of his face during the night.
Tony peered at her badge. Her name was Bridget, it said. “He’s my boss,” he rasped out, his throat dry as a desert. His tongue felt like it was glued to the roof of his mouth and Bridget picked up the glass of water and held it so he could sip through the straw.
“Really?” she replied as she put the glass back on the table. “Wow, no way my boss would sit at my bedside even if I was dying. She’d be too busy telling me to get my lazy ass out of bed and go do what I was paid to do.”
Tony smiled. “Yeah, well, he does a little of that too.” He lifted a hand to rub the back of his head ruefully in memory.
“And he’ll do it again if that’s what it takes to get you out of that hospital bed, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said from the doorway. He walked into the room, coffee cup in one hand and a newspaper in the other then sat back down in the chair he’d occupied the night before. “Besides, if I’m sitting right here I can be pretty sure you’re staying out of trouble.”
Bridget smiled indulgently at them. “Breakfast will be here soon, Mr. DiNozzo, and then I’ll be back to help you wash.”
Tony blushed. He knew he’d had bed baths before but he’d been almost unconscious for them then. This was the most awake he’d been since Gibbs had brought him in after he’d all but collapsed at a crime scene what seemed like forever ago. “It’s Tony, and I can manage by myself-“
“I can help him,” Gibbs intercepted smoothly, casting an amused grin over at Tony’s shocked expression. “I’m sure you’ve got plenty of other patients to keep you busy,” he told Bridget, who gave him an accepting nod and scurried from the room.
“You okay with that?” Gibbs asked.
“I can do it my-“
“DiNozzo, you still break out in a coughing fit every time you so much as turn over in bed,” Gibbs said acerbically. “Let me help you. You’re in here because of what you did for me and Maddie.”
“All part of the job, Boss,” Tony joked halfheartedly but he felt a chill hand grip his heart as the memories of seeing Gibbs lying lifeless on the dock resurfaced.
“No, chasing down perps and turning reports in on time is part of the job,” Gibbs asserted. “Diving into freezing cold water twice, punching out a windscreen and ripping the steering wheel free so you can get two people to safety and do CPR on them isn’t. Especially not when you already have compromised lungs from contracting the plague.”
Tony closed his eyes against the images the recitation brought too clearly to the forefront of his mind. He nodded distractedly then jumped as he felt Gibbs’ hand on his shoulder.
“You okay?” Gibbs asked softly.
“Yeah, just not a memory I really want to have,” Tony replied.
“Sorry.” Gibbs squeezed his shoulder sympathetically then stood up as an aide carried Tony’s breakfast tray into the room. “I’m going to go call the office while you eat then I’ll be back to help you get cleaned up.”
“Okay.” Tony thanked the aide as Gibbs left then picked desultorily at his food. He knew he needed to eat if he wanted to get well enough to go home but his appetite just hadn’t returned yet. After five minutes or so he gave up on the food but made sure he drank the orange juice at least.
He hated the forced inactivity and reliance on others as much as anything else. In the first few days he’d apparently been almost as ill as he had been when he’d had the plague and when he was compos enough to notice what was happening around him the first thing he saw was Gibbs’ haggard face and worried eyes. In spite of hating being the cause of Gibbs’ concern, Tony hadn’t been able to help the little thrill it gave him that Gibbs cared enough about him to be that worried. He’d been in lust with the man ever since the first day Gibbs had asked him to join his team. Now he was starting to think his own feelings went far deeper than that, that maybe this time, for perhaps the first time in Tony DiNozzo’s life he was actually really in love.
He leaned back against his pillows as he thought about that. He’d played the field and dodged every possibility of commitment for so long that he wasn’t sure he even knew what true love felt like anymore. He’d thought he’d had it with Jeanne, and he still believed he’d loved her on some level, as deeply as that Tony DiNozzo was able to at least. But it had been a relationship built on a lie and he’d had to pretend to love her for so long before he actually told her he did that he still wasn’t sure which were his own feelings and which were Anthony DiNardo’s. What he did know was that it hadn’t been as hard to let her go as he’d thought it would be. His heart had sunk when she’d walked away from him and he’d known he’d never see her again but then he’d turned around and seen Gibbs standing there, just watching him, an understanding look in his eyes, and Tony had known he’d made the right choice.
Gibbs was all rough edges and broken heart. There was nothing symmetrical about him. And he fit into Tony’s heart like he was meant to be there.
Of course, Tony had no idea if he fitted into Gibbs’ heart at all…
Tony jumped then looked over at the doorway to see Gibbs leaning against it, a quizzical smile on his face. “Sorry, woolgathering,” he said.
Gibbs just shrugged and walked into the room and got to work as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to be helping Tony undress and wash and change into clean pajamas. He made it matter of fact, simply giving Tony the washcloth so he could wash what he could reach himself and then doing the rest. His hands were warm on Tony’s skin and Tony couldn’t help but be glad that his current state of weakness made it almost impossible to get even a twitch from his cock because otherwise he knew he’d have given everything away when Gibbs was touching him. He was both glad and disappointed when it was over and he was once again resting against the pillows while Gibbs walked into the bathroom to empty the basin and toss the towels into the hamper there.
Just that small amount of activity seemed to have exhausted what reserves Tony had and he closed his eyes and let himself drift, just barely aware of Gibbs coming back and sitting down in the chair next to his bed.
“What the hell did you think you were doing, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked and Tony opened his eyes at the harshness in his voice, its tone so at odds with the kindness of his hands mere minutes ago. “You could have drowned.”
Tony shrugged. “So could you, so could Maddie. I did what I had to do.”
Gibbs bent forward and very slowly pressed a kiss to Tony’s forehead. He pulled away then took Tony’s chin in his hand and lifted it, looking deep into his eyes. “If you’d died, I couldn’t have lived with myself, do you know that?”
Tony shook his head as Gibbs released his hold. “No,” he whispered, shock and not a little hope making it hard for him to speak, “I didn’t know that. I just knew I couldn’t leave you there, that I had to do whatever it took to bring you back… You’d’ve done the same for me, for any of us.”
“Yeah, I would have,” Gibbs replied. He rubbed a hand over his hair then stood up. “Get some rest. I’ve got to check in at the office, take care of a few things. I’ll be back tonight.”
“It’s fine. I’m a lot better. You don’t have to come back,” Tony said, wanting to bite his tongue to prevent the words he didn’t mean coming out. “I know you need to get back to work.”
Gibbs nodded. “McGee and the others want to come visit. You okay with that if the doc thinks you’re up to it?”
“Sure.” Tony nodded. “Be good to see them. I’ll catch you later, Boss.” With that he closed his eyes, unable to watch as Gibbs left. He felt a pat on his shoulder then the sound of the door closing. Resolutely Tony kept his eyes closed and tried to go to sleep.
Three days passed with no sign of Gibbs but ample visiting from Abby, McGee, and Ziva. Tony tried to show he was pleased to see them, and he was, he really was. It warmed him to know that they’d come to care as much about him as he had about them. They were his family now, something that had been sadly lacking from his life until he’d joined NCIS. Yet he still couldn’t help the little nugget of disappointment that nudged his heart whenever the others showed up and Gibbs wasn’t with them.
“Has my boss been in at all?” he asked Bridget the night before he was due to leave the hospital. “I just… He hasn’t visited while I’ve been awake and I wondered if maybe he’d come in after I’d gone to sleep and he didn’t want to wake me up…”
“No, I haven’t seen him when I’ve been on duty,” the nurse replied. “Do you want me to call him for you-“
“No!” The word fled Tony’s lips accompanied by a quick emphatic shake of his head. “It’s fine. I just wondered…”
He spent his last night in hospital lying awake trying to read meaning into those first nights Gibbs had stayed with him, the morning he’d helped Tony bathe, the anger in his voice when he’d asked what the hell Tony had thought he was doing rescuing him and Maddie. And then, just before exhaustion finally claimed him as dawn was beginning to light the sky outside his room he remembered Gibbs agreeing he’d do the same for any of them. Tony closed his eyes and surrendered to sleep, sure now that nothing had really changed between him and Gibbs. He just had to learn to deal. He could do that, he thought, as he drifted off, he’d been doing it for five years.
Tony wasn’t really surprised the next morning to find Ducky waiting in his room for him when he came out of the shower, dressed to go home. His heart sank at not seeing Gibbs but he knew he shouldn’t have expected anything else. He pasted on a bright smile for Ducky instead and gave himself a hard internal talking to. Gibbs was his boss, nothing more. He had to get over it already. He told himself it was residual weakness from being so ill that made his eyes mist over at the definite realization that what he’d thought he’d had with Gibbs in the hospital was nothing but Gibbs’ innate caring for any of his team when any of them were down and out. Resolutely he stomped down on his pity party for one and followed Ducky out to the car, forcing himself to respond enthusiastically to the doctor’s long story about someone he’d once known who’d died from what Tony had.
In the car, Ducky turned to him and placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “None of this has been easy on you, Tony, I know. Be patient a while longer. Things will improve.”
“I know,” Tony agreed. “You and Brad both told me my lungs would always be compromised to some degree.”
“Ah, yes, your lungs, of course,” Ducky said cryptically. He started the car then pulled carefully out into traffic. “I do hope you don’t mind if I can’t stay once I drop you at your apartment. I’ve got several clientele literally on ice, waiting for my return to the lab.”
“I’ll be fine.” Tony held up the paper sack that contained his meds and rattled it meaningfully. “Be kinda nice to get home, put my feet up and watch an old movie actually. You know the TV in my hospital room had over a hundred channels and nothing to watch.”
“Abby did some grocery shopping for you and stocked up your refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables. Do make sure you eat a decent meal tonight. No pizza or take out for a while. You need to keep your vitamin levels up if you want to get back to work quickly.”
And therein lay the rub, Tony thought, turning his head to watch the scenery pass outside his window. Did he want to return to work quickly? Or at all for that matter? Admitting his love for Gibbs had been something of an epiphany for him. He wasn’t sure he was ready just yet to have a glass of cold water dashed in its face, much as he’d told himself to just get over it already.
“Here we are.” Ducky’s voice interrupted his internal monologue and Tony straightened in his seat and unbuckled his seat belt as Ducky parked the car. “Let me get your bag and see you safely upstairs.”
Tony climbed from the car and took the bag from Ducky’s hand. “It’s fine, Ducky. I can manage. You head on back to the lab before you have Gibbs hunting you down.”
“He wouldn’t dare,” Ducky replied loftily but he gave Tony a searching look then patted his arm. “You’re sure? I can spare a few minutes.”
“Really. I’m completely sure. Thanks for the lift though. I appreciate it.” Tony gave his best imitation of a genuine smile then turned and headed inside the building. Inside the elevator he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. He was already exhausted and couldn’t wait to get home and collapse on the couch. He wondered why it was he’d felt fine when he’d got up this morning yet now he was wondering if he even should have left the hospital. Reminding himself he’d felt the same way every time he’d been in hospital before, he gave himself a shake and when the doors opened he forced himself to walk briskly down the hallway to his apartment.
At the door, he put the key in the lock then stopped in surprise as he realized his door was already unlocked. His hand went automatically to reach for his weapon but he stopped as he remembered he wasn’t wearing it. Cautiously, knowing he was in no real condition to take on anyone who had it in mind to take him out, Tony placed his bags on the floor then turned the door handle, pushed open the door and stepped inside.
There was no sign of anyone in the hallway or the living room to his right but a small sound of tinkling glass had him pivoting clumsily to his left. The sudden movement made his head spin and it took a moment for his brain to make sense of what his slightly blurred vision was seeing – Gibbs in Tony’s kitchen, pouring himself a glass of Scotch from the bottle Tony kept on top of the fridge. “Boss?” Tony pushed away from the wall he’d ended up leaning against and walked forward. “You’re in my kitchen.”
“Yep.” Gibbs turned and smiled and Tony’s heart felt like it had melted and pooled somewhere around his feet.
“Why?” he managed to get out.
“I’m making myself a drink and this is where you keep the booze.” Gibbs grinned again and sipped at his drink then put the glass down on the counter and walked over to where Tony had propped himself against the kitchen doorway. “No, you can’t have one because you’re on meds and I really need to get you to buy bourbon for when I’m here.” He leaned in and planted a soft, sweet kiss on Tony’s mouth.
“What’s going on?” Tony swallowed hard then held out his arm. “Pinch me,” he ordered. “I want to make sure I’m not still in my hospital room sleeping.”
Gibbs laughed out loud at that then reached around Tony, ignoring his outstretched arm and pinched his butt. “Real enough for ya?” he asked as Tony jumped.
Gibbs’ breath wafted warm and redolent of Scotch over Tony’s neck and he felt his heartrate increase, palpitating almost madly in response to Gibbs’ closeness.
“Well?” Gibbs asked. “You okay with this?”
“With us?” Tony nodded slowly. “As long as…”
“As long as what?” Gibbs asked, both hands on Tony’s shoulders now, holding him steady.
“As long as it’s not just because of what I did when I pulled you out of that car. As long as it’s not just because I got sick. It was no sacrifice to do that. I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Tony replied, the words tumbling out over a hitching breath.
“I know. I’d do it for you too,” Gibbs agreed.
“You’d do it for any of us, for the team, for your friends,” Tony added.
“Yep, so would you. The one thing I wouldn’t do for anyone but you is this.” Gibbs leaned in close again, his hands moving from Tony’s shoulders to cup his face gently so he could look into his eyes. “I love you, Tony,” he murmured. “That’s the one thing I would never do for the others.”
Tony moved forward then, into Gibbs’ arms and kissed him hard. “Love you back,” he whispered as he pulled away.
“You look like you need to lie down.” Gibbs turned him around and towed him over to the couch and made him sit then lie back against the arm. He pulled Tony’s shoes off then stood up. “I’ve got orders from Ducky to make you a decent dinner and then to make sure you take your meds and get to bed early,” he said, waggling his eyebrows pseudo-suggestively. “I’m pretty sure I can handle all three.”
He started to move away but Tony caught at his hand, holding him in place. “Those last few nights at the hospital. You didn’t come to see me. Why?”
Gibbs sighed and sat down on the couch, lifting Tony’s feet and placing them in his lap, his fingers rubbing across the tops gently. “I knew the others wanted to see you and I wasn’t sure if I would give away everything I’d discovered about my feelings for you if I was there too. I figured I’d give them their time with you until I was sure you and I were on the same page and then once you were feeling better and ready to go back to work, we’d let them in on the secret.”
“It does have to stay a secret though, doesn’t it?” Tony couldn’t keep the disappointment from his voice. He knew if word got out that he and Gibbs were lovers, Vance would probably move him to another team yet he couldn’t quite quell the small part of himself that wanted to shout the news from the rooftops.
Gibbs gave Tony’s feet a final affectionate squeeze and stood up. “For now. Look, Tony, I don’t plan on staying with NCIS until I’m too old to enjoy what else life has to offer. I learned the hard way that there’s no point in sacrificing love for duty. I won’t make that mistake again. Can you wait for me?”
Tony nodded. “So how about you get that dinner cooked so I can take my meds and you can get me into bed, Boss?”
Gibbs leaned down and gave him a light headslap for that. “Boss in the office, Jethro at home. Can you keep that straight, Tony?”
Tony reeled him in for another kiss while he was down there. “Got it, Jethro.”